Recent months have shown a fervor of news stories that indicate an interest in the Hemp industry, unparalleled for close to a century. US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R), the one that bears a striking resemblance to an Italian Tree Frog, has been pushing for months to change policy surrounding Hemp—an agricultural product that has faced unjustified stigma and yellow journalism since the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. McConnell has snuck his regulatory reforms into a major agricultural bill called the Farm Bill, which almost guarantees the success of the new policy changes, and President Trump is expected to sign the bill within days of this article’s publication. But the question remains: how exactly will this affect hemp production? Let's take a look at the information we have so far.
Recent interest in industrial hemp is almost certainly the result of new legislative machinations that have allowed the patenting of a plant-based compound known as Cannabidiol or CBD. CBD has an absolutely staggering range of potential medical applications. It's alleged to be useful for alleviating over 50 common maladies from PTSD and stress to inflammation and arthritis and has been recently patented exclusively as a treatment for epilepsy with stunning results. Until this year when the pharmaceutical analog was introduced, parents of epileptic children had faced jail time for trying to treat their kids with the non-psychoactive substance. This is because CBD can be found in not only Industrial Hemp but also in its cousin Cannabis and was therefore lumped into the same legal restrictions.
McConnell has been pushing for political change in redefining industrial Hemp for over a year now. Maybe he just appreciates the value of the plant, but I suppose the likelihood is that of kickbacks. With as much positive news coverage as this issue has received lately, it's interesting to get past the headlines and into some of the fine points that the proposed Bill sets out.
One of the most interesting things about how this has all evolved is that of McConnell's attaching these reforms to a popular reoccurring piece of legislation known as the Farm Bill. The farm bill sets agricultural and nutritional policy extensions and reformations for the next five years. Hemp is not typically involved in this conversation. As a standard, the Farm Bill is concerned with farm subsidies, nutritional assistance, and crop insurance—most of which have been inapplicable to hemp farming in recent years, at least in the US.
The new Farm Bill changes much of that, expanding research into the subject by allowing broad-scale Hemp cultivation where it was previously limited to small Pilot programs only. The new standards would allow transfer between state lines for commercial use as well as other uses (like research), and puts no restrictions on sale, transport, or the possession of hemp derived products “so long as those products are consistent with the law”.
That is a substantial difference from the standards created in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act and the even more stringent policies enacted in the 1970s with the Controlled Substances Act. These both enabled law enforcement to harshly and ignorantly discriminate against the harmless hemp plant that has been a staple in human agriculture and industry for thousands of years.
Industrial Hemp production in the United States has been tough for decades. Farmers have been under scrutiny and discrimination by politicians who have had no interest in the product until very recently. Only with the capital boom of hemp-derived CBD products have the political winds began to shift in favor of revision or even reconsideration. Now, however, CBD infused products ranging from CBD sparkling water to tinctures have become staples in the marketplace and are in demand across all 50 states. Imported hemp extracts, mostly from China, have been responsible for the flood and inundated marketplace and American entrepreneurs and politicians alike are trying to get a piece of the action. With this in mind let's take a look at the hoops being proposed to jump through to be allowed to grow this immensely beneficial superfood.
As per the old (and new) Colorado state guidelines Industrial Hemp is defined as having no more than 0.3% THC under section 10113 of the new bill. Anything with a higher THC content will be considered cannabis and subject to whatever laws are applicable; even when state and federal laws come in conflict.
Here's where things get complicated. Under the new Farm Bill, state legislatures must get through what appears to be an exhausting amount of red tape.
It starts with the State Department of Agriculture, which must consult with the state Governor and the state's chief Law Enforcement Officer to devise a plan for regulating the Hemp industry in their particular state. Once those three have agreed on a plan, that plan must then be submitted to the USDA where the secretary of the USDA must then approve it before the plan can be implemented in that state.
States that opt out of this process will be provided a plan for them by the feds. As currently proposed the cultivators in states that opted out of their own plan will be able to apply for licenses and follow federally-mandated standards for growing hemp regardless of what state policymakers decide.